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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD):
Does the Foreign Secretary accept now that it is necessary for
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the Government to put themselves not only at the heart of Europe but at its head as well, and that UK leadership has never been more important, both at home and throughout the EU, than it is at the moment?
If we accept that there is no chance of the French or Dutch Governments seeking fresh endorsement from their citizens, and if we agree, as many of us do, that it would be at best quixotic to ask the British people to endorse a treaty that will not come into force, will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity this afternoon to do two things? First, will he reaffirm the Government's belief that issues such as climate change, terrorism, the middle east, Iran and trade with the United States can only be dealt with successfully through a concerted European Union approach? Secondly, will he commit the Government to every available measure to enhance transparency, subsidiarity and accessnone of which require treaty changes?
Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments, which I accept. Of course he is right to say that we are much stronger when we work with our European partnersespecially on Iran, but on climate change, Africa, the middle east, terrorism and other issues as welland weaker when we do not, as we discovered in relation to Iraq.
The principal Opposition party needs to make a choice. Yes, they disagreed with the constitution. However, if we care about the UK's role in the world and our prosperity, it is crucial that we do not use the fact of the rejection of the treaty by France and the Netherlands to undermine the real benefits that the EU as a whole has brought us.
On his second point I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He knows that, separately from the treaty negotiations, I introduced proposals for consideration and decision by this House, the better to enable it and the other place to scrutinise European legislation properly.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): What surprises me is that some people are surprised by the result of the French referendum. Everyone inside the Elysée palace, including the president's cat, knew that the referendum was heading for the buffers. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that the Convention that produced the draft treaty was a French idea, led by a former French president, which has now been summarily dismissed by the French people? The treaty is dead; let us now put it to rest and, as my right hon. Friend suggests, move on. I hope that next week's Heads of State and Government meeting will do just that. We must not start to discuss things that are now behind us. The treaty has failed and we need to go forward.
The constitution was generated by the whole Convention, which included a very large number of representatives, including some from this Parliament and the Government. The decisions of the intergovernmental conference were made by the whole IGC and agreed unanimously. It is therefore quite wrong to suggest that responsibility for the constitution lies at the door of any one member state. We are all responsible for it. The Prime Minister and I would not have recommended it to the
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House unless we thoughtas we still dothat it would be beneficial to the United Kingdom. None the less, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Listening to the Foreign Secretary is like watching a laboratory rat running from one electric probe to another, shocked and dithering all over the place. Will he answer a simple question? His Government extolled the virtues of the treatythey said that it was right. Now, he must either come to the Dispatch Box and say that the treaty is dead; or, if it is not dead, he should let the British people have their vote and kill it off.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his thoughtful and measured statement. That contrasted with the Opposition spokesman's statement, which was delivered with great passion but had no content whatever. When my right hon. Friend meets his colleagues, will he keep two things in mind? First, what the Dutch and French referendums showed is that the old division between the so-called British Eurosceptics and the Franco-German motor no longer exists. The question is which countries and which economies are fit for Europe. Secondly, Ministers should remember not to spend all their time arguing over the rulebook. At some stage they will have to sit down again and write a rulebook. The one thing they need to consider is whether power is exercised at the appropriate level. I agree with my right hon. Friend's call for greater subsidiarity, but at some stage we must revisit the question whether some of the powers currently exercised in one place would not be more appropriately exercised in another, in the interests of economic efficiency.
Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend too for that thoughtful question. I take note of her first point. She says, and she was a member representing this Parliament on the Convention, that a stage will be reached when the rulebook will have to be revised. I remind the House that it is because the existing rulebook is to be found in four overlapping treaties and was designed for an EU of six initial member states that it had to be revised. At some stage in the future, if the constitution does not go ahead, some of the changes that the Convention and the IGC faced will have to be faced by Europe, if it is to operate effectively and efficiently. But I take my hon. Friend's point about the need for power to be exercised at an appropriate level. There is no doubt about that. The issue of subsidiarityof decisions being made at the lowest level possiblehas been a long-standing concern of the Government and is one that we shall pursue.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
The European constitution has been consigned to the political dustbin, but the problem remains of a European Union that is wasteful, remote and bureaucratic and lacks popular support. Why did the Foreign Secretary not tackle those problems before he
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signed the constitution, and will he now apologise for that? Will he transfer his recent enthusiasm for the constitution to searching instead for a simple democratic Europe closer to its citizens, and will he publish his proposals in a White Paper during the British presidency of the European Union?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman also sat as one of the House's representatives on the Convention and well understands the document. Part of the purpose of the Laeken declaration and of the constitution was to deal with what he describes as the bureaucracy of the EU. That was why, for example, far from the constitution recommending an increase in the number of Commissioners to cope with the increase in the number of member states, it proposed and recommended a decrease. It is also why it proposed a much simplified voting systemone in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, I may say, without any questionin place of the convoluted formula that was agreed at Nice. To re-emphasise the point, it contains tangible proposals to improve the way in which this national Parliament and every other national Parliament could scrutinise EU-proposed draft laws. All those were beneficial, and in my judgmentand this is why no apology ariseswould have been better for the UK and better for Europe, and far from leading to more waste would have led to less waste, a streamlined organisation, and what my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was speaking aboutbetter and more effective outcomes for the citizens of Europe.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): There are many people in this country and throughout Europe who have a fear of competitive nationalism. They remember what happened in the 1930s, when economic and political instability wrecked Europe. I very much welcome the approach that my right hon. Friend announced to the House, and the fact that the British Government will take a measured approach at the Brussels summit. Will my right hon. Friend continue with that approach as we prepare for the British presidency? I look forward to hearing from him next week, when he may give us a greater flavour of some of the proposals that he intends to put forward.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right. When we argue about the constitutional treatythe argument is perfectly understandablewe should be certain not to damage the progress that the EU has made in securing, above all, peace between continental states whose histories are written in blood rather than words and unparalleled prosperity. We should not lose sight of that point in future discussions.
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